Business Winners and Losers 2003

Eliot Spitzer: There may be nothing scarier to a Wall Street exec these days than being told, "The New York attorney general's on the phone." This year, Spitzer passed out subpoenas among some of the nation's most respected financial institutions. Most recently, he has set his sights on the mutual fund industry, targeting firms that trade shares at the 4 p.m. price after the market closes. He compares it to "betting on a horse race after the horses have crossed the finish line." Speaking of horse races, handicappers are placing odds on the ambitious Spitzer parlaying all the headlines into a governorship in 2006. Or how about vice president next year, or president in 2008?

Rosie O'Donnell: She went 10 rounds in court against a major magazine company and came out with a draw. Most people would call that a win. O'Donnell was sued by Gruner + Jahr, which claimed she broke her contract with the company when she abandoned a magazine venture inspired by, and named after, her. She countersued for $125 million, claiming G+J denied her the editorial control she had been promised over Rosie the magazine. Both sides came out looking temperamental and headstrong, so the judge decided neither side deserved anything.

Linus Torvalds: Torvalds has long been the hero of computer geeks for developing an operating system some think is better than Windows, especially since it's free. But in 2003, it became clear just how important the project he launched as a teenager in Finland has become to corporate America. The SCO Group this year launched a $3 billion lawsuit against IBM for distributing Linux, claiming it contained code from SCO's Unix, the older OS that inspired it. The tech press hung on Torvald's every word concerning the case and the future of Linux. Wired magazine declared him the "Leader of the Free World." Whatever the outcome of the case, Torvalds is sure to go down in history as one of the most important programming innovators of our time.

Anne Mulcahy: The Xerox CEO turned the copier company around, shaking it free of investigations into its finances and returning it to profitability. It wasn't painless. The company cut thousands of jobs and sold billions in asset since Mulcahy took over in 2001. What emerged was not a shrunken photocopy of the previous Xerox, but a high-tech outfit with a new menu of printing products for the wired office. The company is expected to post its second straight year of profits in 2003, and do even better in 2004.

Dick Grasso: Yes, it's true, he's also in the losers column. But how can he not be a winner, too? After all, he walked away with almost $140 million for his role as head cheerleader of the stock exchange. Not too shabby for a guy who didn't go to college and worked his way up from clerk on the floor of the exchange in the 1960s. Unlike some of the others in the losers column, he apparently doesn't have to worry about any subpoenas landing in his lap. At 57, many are wondering if he'll simply ride quietly into the sunset or make an encore appearance somewhere else in the financial world. Either way, he's set for life — and then some.

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